Bread Flour vs Self Rising Flour – What’s the Difference?

Knowing your flour is an important part of success in the kitchen, but have you ever wondered about the difference between self-rising flour vs bread flour? There is quite a big difference in the results of cooking with the two, so why and how do they differ?

Bread flour contains more gluten and more protein than self-rising flour does. It produces heavier, chewier results, and is perfect for using with yeast to get a rise with lots of structure. By contrast, self-rising flour contains a leavening agent and salt but is far less robust. It rises without the addition of yeast and creates a great texture for cakes.

In this article, I’ll further break down the differences between both flours. 

What Is Bread Flour?

bread flour

Bread flour is – unsurprisingly – the flour that we use when we want to bake bread, and it produces a great texture. It is milled to have a high protein content, often somewhere around twelve percent (although this does depend on the brand that you buy).

The increased protein in bread flour is what gives bread its satisfyingly chewy texture when it has cooked. Bread that isn’t made with bread flour will often be crumbly and fail to hold together – there’s a reason we use special flour for it!

You might be surprised to learn that flour has protein in it, but it does. The two proteins are glutenin and gliadin. 

When you add liquid to your flour mix, these proteins transform into gluten, and that’s what the kneading process is in aid of. It creates long strands that bind the bread together and help trap the carbon dioxide that the yeast exudes. These strands also give the bread its texture and structure, making it satisfying to eat.

If you don’t have enough protein (and therefore gluten) in the wheat when you knead it, your bread won’t form a proper structure, and won’t be as enjoyable to eat. That’s why bread flour is high in protein.

Can You Make Bread Flour At Home?

You might be wondering if you can turn all-purpose flour into bread flour with some addition from your cupboards, but sadly, the answer is no. Bread flour needs to be milled with higher protein content, and you can’t create it from any of the other flours that you may have in your cupboard.

What Is Self-Rising Flour?

Flour

Self-rising flour is similar to all-purpose flour but has had certain things added to it. It is designed to be used in many different recipes, but particularly soft, light ones.

The wheat used for self-rising flour has less protein, often around eight percent. This is even lower than the protein percentage of all-purpose flour (usually around ten percent). Foods made with self-rising flour are particularly soft and tender, so it’s great for cookies and cakes.

Self-rising flour also contains a leavening agent to help the food rise while it’s cooking. This is usually baking powder. Self-rising flour contains a pinch of salt, too, meaning you don’t need to measure or add either of these ingredients.

Self-rising flour is a convenience baking item that makes it easier to create deliciously soft baked goods with less time and effort.

Can You Make Self-Rising Flour At Home?

Sort of, yes! If a recipe calls for self-rising flour and you don’t have any, you can make it yourself from all-purpose flour. You need to add one and a half teaspoons of baking powder and a quarter of a teaspoon of salt to every cup of all-purpose flour.

The texture of your baked goods might be slightly less tender than if you use a specifically milled self-rising flour, because of the small increase in the protein content. However, this should not be very noticeable and on the whole, self-rising flour you make yourself at home will be very similar to commercial self-rising flour.

This is a great way to cut down on the number of flours you need to store in your cupboard if you are a keen baker.

What Is The Difference Between Self-Rising Flour And Bread Flour?

The biggest difference between the two flours is the texture that they produce in their foods. Bread flour is chosen to create a chewy, strong texture that makes the bread satisfying to bite into and rip up. It is filling and strong enough to make sandwiches with.

Self-rising flour has been chosen because its lower protein content leads to a soft, crumbly, and tender structure that is perfect for cookies and cakes. It is also a convenience food with some of the necessary ingredients already added – almost like buying a ready-mix cake mix, 

Can You Substitute Bread Flour With Self-Rising Flour?

So, you’re making bread and you only have self-rising flour. Will it do instead? It will work, but unfortunately, it won’t work very well at all. If you use self-rising flour in a bread recipe, you will still get edible results most of the time, but it will not be a good loaf of bread.

For starters, the additional ingredients may alter the flavor of the bread somewhat, since bread depends on yeast to rise, rather than baking powder. This might change the taste once the bread is cooked.

Secondly, the texture will not be good. The self-rising flour is very low in protein, and that stops the dough from forming enough gluten. The carbon dioxide produced by the yeast won’t be trapped in the dough, but will instead mostly escape to the air. This stops the bread from rising properly, creating a denser loaf.

Thirdly, the lack of protein means that the dough won’t form long chains, and these chains are partly what gives the bread structure. If you don’t succeed in creating a “mesh” within your bread dough, the final product will be crumbly.

Overall, therefore, self-rising flour isn’t suitable for making bread with. It will produce an edible food, but the texture will be far less appetizing, and you may find that the loaf is very crumbly and difficult to cut well.

Can You Substitute Self-Rising Flour With Bread Flour?

You will have more success with this substitution, although you’ll still notice a difference in texture. The heavier bread flour will make your cookies or cakes stodgy and may cause them to be chewy instead of tender.

However, bread flour should still work for cakes and cookies if you don’t have any other options. It is not a better option than all-purpose flour if you have that instead, but if bread flour is the only flour in your cupboard, it will make acceptable baked goods.

You will need to make sure that you compensate for the missing leavening agent and that you add salt. A recipe that calls for self-rising flour may not mention these things because they are already in the flour mix. If it does mention them, you will still need to increase the quantity of both since bread flour doesn’t contain either.

Summary

Self-rising flour and bread flour are very different ingredients, and substituting one for the other isn’t a great idea. Bread flour contains considerably more protein than self-rising flour, which means that it’s good for chewy, textured foods. Self-rising flour is good for light, fluffy desserts.

Both flours will (usually) work when substituted for each other, but at the cost of good texture in whatever it is that you’re baking.

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for over five years! I've set up this blog because I'm passionate about veganism and living a more spiritually fulfilling life where I'm more in tune with nature. Hopefully, I can use Vegan Foundry as a channel to help you out on your own journey!